The conference and the context

This conference will launch The Sanneh Institute for Research, Religion & Society at the University of Ghana in Accra. It will bring together scholars for three days for an interdisciplinary study related to interaction between Muslims, Christians and their traditions. Through panels, presentations and roundtables, the conference will serve as a nexus for conversations based in research from historians, translators, educators, inter faith specialists, textual scholars and others who share an interest in the intersections of Christianity and Islam. The conference will reflect on the life and work of Prof. Lamin Sanneh (d. 2019) for whom the Institute is named, and who embodied and articulated the intersections between the two religious traditions. The Sanneh Institute will work in partnership with the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies, Oxford (CMCS), in convening local, regional and international collaborators who share an interest in developing advanced study of Christianity and Islam in their regions.

 Territoriality, Hospitality and the West African context

The theme of ‘territoriality’ reflects the observation that most tensions between Christians and Muslims – and, indeed, between other societies – have to do with the question of who is in control in a particular place.  There is a triangle of people (be they a family, a tribe, a religious group or another ethnic group), power (decision makers) and land (the place where they live).[1]  This conference will set the tone for conversations around key topics and issues The Sanneh Institute has identified for research in West Africa. CMCS has identified territoriality as an important theme of a major research project which will aim to identify and understand the territorial elements underlying current issues.

 The theme of ‘hospitality’ reflects the observation that tensions are less where the peoples involved practice hospitality towards other peoples. In particular, the African continent has often demonstrated that the harmonious co-existence of Christians and Muslims even within families is related to African traditions of hospitality. The themes of tolerance and accommodation have been explored by Lamin Sanneh in his works on the engagement of traditional religions, Christianity and Islam in Africa. At the same time, Christians and Muslims have also been seen vying for territory with each other, among each other, and with traditional African communities. How far, we might ask, could the concept and practice of hospitality address issues of settlement, migration and border crossings in other parts of the world?

 In the contemporary world, religion and the relationship between adherents of different religions are debated on multiple platforms. The discussion may rely on simplistic portrayals of Christianity and Islam and present the two faiths in oppositional terms without considering regional, cultural and doctrinal differences between and within the faiths. For example, in western circles, Christianity is largely discussed in relation to secularism and rising atheism, whilst Islam is mostly discussed in terms of current affairs and debates about multiculturalism. It is also seen as an issue of recent migrations, despite a millennium of interaction between Europe and the Islamic Empire which ended only in 1924 with the dissolution of the Ottoman sultanate.

 The life and work of Prof. Lamin Sanneh points out that on the African continent, in contrast to much of the West, religion is seen as integral to humanity, so that Christianity and Islam are expressions of an essential aspect of humanity.[2] In West Africa, there are daily contacts between the two faith groups that has been termed a ‘dialogue of life.’ The pacifist histories and tendencies of the Christian and Islamic traditions are, however, not homogenous across borders and communities. Geo-political issues and radicalisation have increasing influence, and regional conflicts are often expressed in terms of conflict between religions, making our questions relevant and urgent.

 The Sanneh Institute offers a new context which challenges the polarities of current discourse:  this exploration of territory and hospitality promises not only to develop fresh understandings for a rapidly changing Africa, but also to bring insights into global discussions and to point ways forward for study and future engagement world-wide.

 People, law, history, theology:  The territory questions

In Western democracies, territories are usually defined within nation states or in regions within those states.  There are peoples who see themselves as indigenous, there are peoples who see themselves as long-term residents, and there are new immigrant communities.  There are questions about how the religious laws of different communities relate to the national laws. Western societies are generally ordered according to local legal codes, on the basis of an established national constitution, through democratically elected government, and in accordance with international ‘Human Rights.’  The religious basis of law and order is seldom made explicit. 

 In sub-Saharan Africa, territories may be defined according to long-established tribal tradition, and some of these territories are not bounded in ways which fit the ‘nation state’ model. This is particularly true of areas populated by pastoral and nomadic peoples. Further, different peoples may have their lives regulated by different laws even within a single village. Islamic shari’ah, local traditions and customs, and Christian notions of law may exist side by side, all functioning under an overall modern nation state constitution. For example, couples might be subject to different legal systems depending on whether they were married in an Islamic ceremony or in a church, and/or participated in customary rites of marriage.[3] 

 The Christian and Muslim dimensions are, then, of great importance in thinking about territory: there is not only the question of who has the power in an area, but of what kind of social order prevails. Is it Islamic law, traditional African, international human rights law, or some kind of Christian law? Alongside the question of how peoples can co-exist is the question of how different legal codes can co-exist, and to what extent they function within traditional practices of hospitality.   

 Discourse depends on the extent of agreement on the historical narrative that has shaped the governance of shared territories. Such underlying issues are not always stated, and the different communities may be unaware of each other’s versions of their shared histories.  Further, issues are often intertwined with religious views of territory and jurisdiction as well as with concerns about religious community and identity.  The religious views, in their turn, derive from scripture and tradition, and from the historical and theological movements which have shaped the different religious identities.  Again, such issues are not always necessarily stated or understood.   

Learning to live together

The organisers of this conference believe that, for Muslims and Christians to live at peace with each other in the 21st century, the social, historical and theological issues surrounding ‘territory’ needs to be acknowledged and understood.  This is a multi-disciplinary task, and it is also a shared task:  Muslims and Christians will need to understand each other’s views of territory, and of the texts, history, social codes and theology which determine them. But more importantly, we need to jointly explore and seek to cultivate the various forms and practices of hospitality in our traditions and shared experiences. How could traditions of hospitality at the communal level be broken into moral values for inculcation in younger generations?

 In order to live together, we need to learn together.  We need a model of how learning may take place between Muslims and Christians that promotes peaceful co-existence. The conference will develop such a model in the particular context of the ‘territory’ questions.  The model will use the theme of mutual hospitality, in which we can offer space to hear each other’s ideas and beliefs as we consider how we can share territorial space in mutual hospitality. We anticipate that this model will prove fruitful for many other future investigations.  We will include a dimension of public discourse, so that the scholarly learning together will be part of a broader learning together.

 Summary of Objectives  

In relation to the issue of ‘territory’ and ‘hospitality’:

  • to use an inter-disciplinary approach to explore regional histories and conditions,       

  • to compare differences and similarities of texts, their interpretations, and consequent political, legal and social outcomes,         

  • to encourage Muslims and Christians to work together on collaborative research projects.

In relation to ‘learning to live together’:

  • to develop a model for Christian and Muslim scholars to learn with and from each other on the basis of rigorous research,

  • to provide the occasion for Muslims, Christians and wider public to encounter each other and challenge preconceived notions of Islam and Christianity,

  • to develop scholarship and networks to continue this learning across the globe.

Call for Papers

The international conference herewith opens its call for abstracts to be submitted by 30 June 2019 to Georgina Jardim at ghanaconf@cmcsoxford.org.uk. Abstracts should be written in English, have a length of around 300 words, and include the name and affiliation of the author. Submissions will be subject to a selection process to ensure a balance of presentations that address the title of the conference in terms of contemporary experiences, historical experiences or scriptural and theological grounding of hospitality and territoriality. Submissions of full papers by December 30, 2019

The Contemporary Experiences perspective invites proposals for papers that engage hospitality and territoriality with reference to relations between Christians and Muslims. These include social, political and geographic topics related to regional co-existence of Muslims and Christians. The papers may include sociological analysis in research papers, reports on case studies, and reflections from researchers about working together as Christians and Muslims. Case studies might consider the following questions:

  • Are there examples of good relations (or bad ones) today? How are they achieved? Is it at the price of faithfulness, or through pursuing it?

  • Are there specific interventions, or conditions, which consistently seem to yield better results?

  • How do specific issues, such as conversion, evangelism/dawa, use of force or theologies of land and holy sites affect the sharing of territory?

  • In what ways is Islamic law regarding the sharing of territory being interpreted and re-interpreted in the modern age?

  • What are the preferred ideals for government today? Why?

  • How does context affect these ideals, e.g. the demographic mix within the nation?

The Historical Experiences perspective invites proposals for papers that engage historical descriptions and analysis of Muslim-Christian relations which illuminate the question of shared territory. We seek papers that utilize various types of evidence, whether literary, documentary and epigraphic, or material/archaeological, to elucidate the historical context of regional relations between Christians and Muslims in different eras. Presentations may reflect on questions such as:

  • What different experiences and models for sharing territory have emerged in history? How different or similar have they been in using power, law, force etc. to control or challenge the other faith? Are there writings or sermons that have been applied in these circumstances?

  • What ideals of government and authority have been upheld in the past?

  • On what basis do we decide which lessons from history should be applied today?

 The unit on Scriptural, Theological and Traditional Grounding invites proposals for papers on exegetical, narrative, legal or any other interaction between the Biblical and Quranic traditions that address territoriality and hospitality as Christian and/or Muslim constructs. These may include key theological questions that often emerge in discussions on shared territory between Muslims and Christians, as well as comparisons between the Quran and Bible that address territoriality. The texts may be explored with some of the following questions in mind:

  • What is understood to be God’s ideal for how to share territory?

  • What codes of hospitality are available to those who share the same territory?

  • Are there distinctive theologies of land?

  • How do views of the ‘Promised Land’ relate to general theologies of land?

  • What principles does each faith encourage which affect how to share territory with others?

  • What does Islamic law traditionally require regarding sharing territory?

  • If Muslims and Christians live together, what law should they aspire to create/influence?

  • Loss of territory? What does it mean to live in someone else’s territory?

 Bibliography

Sanneh, Lamin, Beyond Jihad: The Pacifist Tradition in West African Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016)

_________The Changing Face of Christianity: Africa, the West, and the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005 (co-edited with Joel A. Carpenter)

_________ Piety and Power: Muslims and Christians in West Africa (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996)

Albrecht, Sarah, Dār al-Islām Revisited: Territoriality in Contemporary Islamic Legal Discourse on Muslims in the West, Muslim Minorities, Volume: 29 (Leiden: Brill, 2018)

 Calasso, Giovanna & Giuliano Lancioni (eds), Dar al-Islam/Dar al-Harb: Territories, Peoples, Identities (Leiden: Brill, 2017) 

[1] See Ida Glaser, The Bible and Other Faiths, IVP/Langham, 2005,     

[2] See for instance his explanation of the role of relationship in his West African upbringing, “Society here is not just the sublimation of sacred, binding customs, but the commissary of God”, Summoned from the Margin, p. 12

[3] See Sanneh’s autobiographical discussion of circumcision as a confluence of traditional custom and religion, arguing, “The justification of the rite [of circumcision] was community practice and sanction, not revelation.” Summoned from the Margin, p. 55.